NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

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Editor's note: Any views or opinions expressed in this story is solely of the author.

(CNN Philippines) — After six months of NBA action, the regular season is finally done. But as they say, the playoffs is when the real season begins. Let's now take a look at the 16 teams left in the running for the much coveted Larry O'Brien trophy.

How will conference top seeds Toronto and Houston fare in postseason? Can the Golden State Warriors defend their crown? Which team is the dark horse in this year's playoffs?

Let's look at each of the first round matchups and see the storylines that could help us determine which among the teams have the advantage to go into the next round.

Here's my preview of the Eastern Conference:

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards

The Raptors have been great all season long - improving from within despite not adding any big offseason name. Casey has done a good job building this team and Derozan has definitely become a franchise player. The Wizards have been very inconsistent all year long. John Wall is healthy though which is a good sign. On paper, the Wizards would seem like they have the right pieces (Beal, Gortat, Morris) to be able to pull off an upset but it's tough to see that happening with the way the Raptors have been playing and executing on both ends of the floor.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is going to be an upset. Sure the Celtics will be playing without Kyrie Irving, which is a tremendous loss but they still are the favored team because of the way Brad Stevens has gotten them to play. This, despite all their injures all year round - Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart were hurt too. They still have Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, plus you can't discount the way they play defense and just execute. But with that said, I think the Bucks will be able to find a way to win led by Giannis and Khris Middleton. The addition of Eric Bledsoe definitely gives them another playmaker and defender. Malcolm Brodgon is back from injury and Jabari Parker is starting to show flashes of why he was drafted so high. They have a deep rotation now with a good balance of veterans - Jason Terry and Brandon Jennings to help give them some valuable experience and stability.

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat

This is actually might be one of the most competitive series in the East. They split the season series at 2-2, Philadelphia winning twice by a total of 8 points and Miami winning twice by a total of 10 points - with two games decided by one possession. Joel Embiid will probably be out for the first game and possibly more. The Heat have been a very good defensive team (4th in the league in opponents points per game) and I would say have a legitimate shot at pulling off an upset - especially with much more playoff experience from their players and their coach. I will still go with the 76ers though because of the fact that they have Ben Simmons and Embiid, not to mention veterans in Redick and Belinelli, plus two solid forwards in Saric and Covington. But it will be tough.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

Let me keep this simple, the Pacers have definitely overachieved, winning 6 more games despite the departure of Paul George. Victor Oladipo has emerged as a legit star - hence my vote for most improved player, but I definitely do not see this team beating Lebron James and the Cavs in the series at all. This will be a good tune-up for Cleveland to get their guys figuring out how to play together in time for a second round matchup with the Raptors.

READ: Who are the players likely to win the regular season awards?

What are your thoughts on the first round pairings in the Eastern Conference, and which four teams will advance in the semis? Let me know your thoughts via Twitter by tagging me @charlestiu and @sportsdeskph! You can also check out my Western Conference preview here.

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